If music were to be piped into the gallery for the opening of Matthew Strauss' exhibit of new paintings, the soundtrack would have to be industrial -- something in the vein of Nine Inch Nails or Nitzer Ebb or, even better, Tool. Strauss' machine-driven work is especially reminiscent of those Tool videos with the stop-motion animation of grim little figures in hopeless landscapes.
The painter's first solo show features a collection of images inspired by models he constructed in his studio. The miniatures, comprising stray electronic parts and "cannibalized toys," as he explains, are of wheelchairs outfitted with imaginary medical devices. The chairs are encircled by sinister-looking tubes, masks and appliances intended for sucking away effluvia and carrying out other visceral tasks. The wheelchair paintings have titles such as "PREPARATION/for urination, defecation, childbirth, vomiting, singing, and coughing." Other paintings depict rib cages and lungs engulfed by what look to be primitive mechanical parts, like something from a David Cronenberg flick.
"The big human problem is that we're these soft-bodied, fragile, really complex machines that are going to die and no longer exist and we're aware of that, and that awareness is really crazy to me -- it's an incredible burden," explains the 29-year-old Strauss. "People put themselves through terrible things to continue to exist and live because the alternative is hard to imagine. I'm observing that people will suffer through any number of gruesome indignities just to continue to exist."
Although these images of what could pass for Victorian orthopedic quackery are dark stuff, Strauss insists, "I'm not a grim person. They're not pessimistic paintings as much as they're pragmatic paintings."
Still, the artist allows that these works are "a John Donne thing: 'Ask not for whom the bell tolls.' All those wheelchairs have no one in them because they're for the viewer."